Chef Barney Cohen’s pub menu leads the charge with beef cheek and ale pie in pea soup, olives with candied lemon and a “retired dairy cow” cheeseburger.

It’s a pub given a polish. The North Fitzroy Arms is a landmark in the sense that it’s big, it’s recognisable, and it has history, but it’s been a while since it enjoyed a reputation as somewhere you’d go out of your way to eat and drink. That looks set to change now that new ownership has given the place a sympathetic facelift and brought in some smart new talent to revive the menu and wine list. Chef Barney Cohen is a Fitzroy local who comes to the Arms from Bar Bellamy, while new wine boss Hayley McCarthy comes from fine diner Ides.

“Sympathetic” is the key word here. Just as you’ve still got the heroes of the Fitzroy Lions sides circa 1883 to 1996 and framed pictures of Gough Whitlam on the walls alongside the artier additions of posters for Punt e Mes and art shows, and there’s still a beer garden and two-dollar pool, Cohen’s menu leans into the brief, taking the pub classics and giving them a lift by making as much as he possibly can from scratch in-house, right down to the tomato sauce. Less a remix and more a remastered 150th anniversary reissue, if you will.

You want sausages, steak, a floater, a burger, some crumbed meat and chips and gravy, and Barney is going to give them to you, on monogrammed plates to boot. The snags are pork and sage, the pie in the floater is loaded with beef cheek braised in ale, the gravy is house-made, and the rump comes in under $40, with chips and bearnaise. And the “retired dairy cow” cheeseburger? The practice of using meat from “retired” dairy cows is catching on with chefs who believe that, apart from the ethical consideration of putting the animals’ meat to best use, that meat also happens to be more flavoursome than the much younger animals typically slaughtered for the table.

The retired dairy-cow cheeseburger at the North Fitzroy Arms
The retired dairy-cow cheeseburger at the North Fitzroy Arms

These genre hits are complemented by a handful of strong vegan options (including a retired vegetable cheeseburger), wild kangaroo salami, Wapengo oysters, and olives with candied lemon. There’s bacon, crème fraîche and bacon with the mussels, and green goddess dressing with the chicken, chips and cos salad. If you’re the kind of person who orders dessert at the pub instead of another round of drinks – no judgement – there’s quince and rhubarb jelly, and the sticky date pudding comes with malt ice-cream. (So maybe dessert and another round.)

At the bar, there’s still Carton on tap alongside Guinness and Gold, but you’ve also got a by-the-glass list that includes a manzanilla from cult sherry producer Equipo Navazos, Jura savagnin and Adelaide Hills grüner. Better yet, Hayley has put outstanding local producers front and centre, with house wines from the legends at Konpira Maru and Bobar, Melbourne-brewed sake and a montepulciano from Heathcote’s Valentine Wines all on pour. The bottles list features a healthy number of wines under $80. Among the cocktails you’ll find another note of intrigue: there’s an option to add Guinness to your Espresso Martini for a dollar. That’s our kind of renaissance.

The North Fitzroy Arms Hotel, open for lunch Fri-Sun, dinner daily; 296 Rae St, North Fitzroy, 0422-22-ARMS, northfitzroyarms.com.au, @thenorthfitzroyarms